Horror is often most potent when it touches a nerve. Yes, jolts and jumps make for good popcorn horror. But when a movie pulls back the curtain on social anxiety or ill, it has the power to disturb. By now most of us have heard somewhere that millennials will be the first generation to fare worse than their parents. Crippling student debt, climate change, political divisiveness, the unattainability of home ownership – all these things should sound familiar. Enter indie thriller 1BR. On the surface, writer and director David Marmor’s feature-length debut finds a twenty-something woman escaping her problems only to be ensured by a cult. But Marmor’s critically-acclaimed psychological horror may get under Millennial’s skin for other reasons.
Following the double-blow of losing her mother and learning her father was cheating, twenty-something Sarah impulsively escapes to L.A. With no plan and only a meagre temp job, Sarah struggles to find somewhere to live. But things seemingly turn around when she finds the perfect apartment complex. As Sarah settles into her new home, she finds herself surrounded by a supportive community for the first time in her life. Strange sounds in the walls at night and one creepy neighbour are just minor nuisances. Then the mask is suddenly pulled off her idyllic home.
1BR Overcomes Formulaic ‘Killer Cult’ Story With Killer Subtext
Inevitably, 1BR will draw comparisons to other ‘killer cult’ thrillers, including The Invitation and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Similar to those thrillers, Marmor prefers a slow-burn approach to his horror. For the first third or so of 1BR, Marmor takes his time as he immerses you into his sun-soaked setting alongside Sarah. As compared to the movies listed above, 1BR is less ambiguous about its central threat. Moreover, Marmor’s approach to his ‘cult’ is somewhat straightforward. Yet Marmor’s openness about the dangers in Sarah’s new home serves to build a palpable feeling of uneasiness. Most importantly, 1BR doesn’t tip its hand as to where it’s going and, as a results, delivers an unnerving twist at its conclusion.
…1BR doesn’t tip its hand as to where it’s going …
Though there’s a few jumps liberally spread throughout the movie, Marmor focuses more on atmosphere. Expect a few gory scenes that may recall the ‘Torture Porn’ movies of the early 2000s. To his credit, however, Marmor shows restraint which, in turn, makes the movie’s violence all the more shocking. And Marmor’s story of a disillusioned twenty-something desperately seeking a place in the world will resonate and scare Millennials in equal measure. In this regard, 1BR shares some DNA with another ‘lost in LA’ horror-thriller, Starry Eyes.
Subtle Performances Lend Themselves to 1BR’s Implicit Psychological Horror
Like its storytelling and tone, 1BR’s performances are subtle and understated. Across the board, the entire cast inhabits their roles resulting in a film world that feels lived in. As Sarah, Nicole Brydon Bloom is so good that you forget she’s playing a character. Bloom doesn’t overpower – she exudes a natural simmering anxiety and unease. What’s particularly impressive is Bloom’s ability to convey an inner turmoil without chewing the scenery.
There’s an almost benign quality to the performances that’s fitting of what Marmor intends for his movie.
Most of the supporting cast won’t ring a bell for audiences. And that’s okay because ‘big name’ actors would distract from the movie’s more unnerving moments. Both Giles Matthey and Taylor Nichols, playing disciple and leader, respectively, convey a quiet menace. Nothing about their performances conform to more cartoonish expectations of onscreen villains. There’s an almost benign quality to the performances that’s fitting of what Marmor intends for his movie. You’re meant to feel like 1BR is a real world where you could just as easily be trapped. And the cast deserves as much credit as Marmor’s nuanced screenplay.
1BR Quietly Recruits Its Scares To Join The Best of 2020
In a year where major horror movies have been indefinitely pulled from release schedules, indie horror has thrived. Now David Marmor’s 1BR joins The Wretched, Host, and Relic as among the year’s best. Don’t expect 1BR to re-imagine what we know about cults – Marmor’s treatment of his cult is never intended to be the movie’s focus. Instead the movie’s ability to put you into Sarah’s plight is where it draws its scares. Younger audiences feeling anxiety over where they fit into the world will find a lot to relate to in 1BR. And the where the movie bests navigates its tension.